Gordon Harris loved to tell the story of how, when he was a youngster on Long Island in the 1930s, an older gentleman asked for a ride in his rowboat to see the sights along Huntington Harbor.
An older gentleman who he swore was none other than Albert Einstein.
“I can’t verify that 100%, but that’s the story Dad told,” said Gordon’s son, Louis Harris, of Walpole, Massachusetts. “I mean, Einstein was in Huntington around the late 1930s, and around that time Dad would have been screwing around with his boat on the weekend. It’s conceivably possible.”
Louis’ older brother, Paul Harris, of Memphis, Tennessee, agreed: “It probably did happen.”
Dr. Gordon Israel Harris of Greenlawn was born on Halloween in 1929 and lived his entire life in New York until his death at 90 from complications due to the coronavirus.
Harris practiced optometry on Long Island, first adding optometric services to his father Seymour’s optician office before focusing on his own practice in Greenlawn. The profession was Harris’ passion, and he was deeply involved with optometric research and education.
“He had a wonderful practice,” said Paul Harris, who is also a doctor of optometry. “His patients loved him. He cared about them deeply and would always go out of his way to help them."
Harris’ devotion to optometry eventually found its way into the educational setting, as he joined the faculty of the SUNY State College of Optometry in Manhattan in the 1970s. There, he taught in labs and helped in the clinic while simultaneously working to develop various eye and visual instruments — an effort that satisfied Harris’ excitement for tinkering with household gadgets.
“He was incredibly intelligent, which made him very curious. He loved to learn how things worked,” said Louis Harris.
Paul Harris added that every broken mechanical item in the house was fair game to his dad.
“He would tear things apart to see how they worked and he would try to see if he could somehow make it work again,” said Paul Harris, who developed his own proclivity for mechanics thanks to his father’s example.
Harris’ influence went beyond engineering and optometry. A gregarious and outgoing man about town, Harris was respected through the community. Included in his community efforts was time spent as an umpire with the Greenlawn Little League, as well as 50 years in Kiwanis International, acting as lieutenant governor for close to 20 years.
He was also an active member of the Huntington Men’s Choir, even though he had never actually learned how to properly read music — choosing instead to listen to recordings of vocal arrangements and “reverse engineer” the harmonies to figure out which part he needed to sing.
“Everywhere he went, it was ‘Hey, Gordy!’” Paul said. “He liked to know everyone’s name and he was generous and playful with everyone he knew.”
Predeceased by his wife, Sondra, and daughter, Elizabeth, Harris is survived by his sons and his companion, Barbara Macchiaroli of Greenlawn.
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